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« Byron Rushes to Astrology's Defense | Main | "Kyiv" [by Howard Altmann] »

September 01, 2023


My own recollection of that last line in the penultimate stanza was that Auden, troubled by what he deemed the inanity of "We must love one another or die," changed it to "We must love one another and die." But even that troubled him for, after all, we all die. Volition or opinion has no role in that. In his mind the "what" of death becomes a kind of reductio ad absurdum or, perhaps worse, infelicitous sentimentality. In Auden's mind, either line was at best cumbersome and at worst insipid. It's why he apparently decided to cut the entire stanza. Still unsatisfied, he concluded "the whole poem, I realized, was infected with an incurable dishonesty--and must be scrapped." Thank God that posterity made the ultimate decision. My final point is that Auden's own struggle with wording in the poem is, in and of itself, a cogent indication of just how seriously he regarded the enormity of Germany's invasion of Poland. What words befit such an event and what it portends? But bringing light to truth is its own enduring testament. That's why Auden's poem was and is unkillable.

A fine succinct commentary, I think, Dr, Hitchner.

In an effort to rescue the stanza, academics have offered all sorts of interpretations of the line, "We must love another or die," including the biological, in which the perpetuation of the race depends on the act of copulation.

1 -- "We must love one another and die."

I learned this via Buddhism: a Buddhist monk mentioned Auden's change.I wish I remembered the name of the sermon.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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